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IF/THEN® Ambassadors Utilize the Power of Diversity and Dancing to Help Girls Engage With Science

STEM From Dance uses dance to engage particularly minority girls from low-income areas | Yamilée Toussant Beach

This is the third in a three-part series. Click here to read Part 1 and click here to read Part 2.

Over the past year, the AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors have been wrapping up more than 90 different “She Can Change the World” public engagement projects they developed with “mini-grant” funding provided by Lyda Hill Philanthropies.

These projects are designed to help create a supportive environment for girls to go into STEM.

This series profiles six of the more than 90 projects. We highlight the last two in our series below.

Lataisia Jones – Color in STEM (Virtual Event/Networking)

Dr. Lataisia Jones, scientific review officer at the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, was already working to bring both STEM and STEM role models to girls, both on her own using her brand “Hey Dr. Tay,” and with her collaborator Dr. Adrienne Stephenson, assistant dean at the Graduate School at Florida State University, when Jones became a AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador. But with the additional funding from Lyda Hill, they formed a new non-profit, Changing Faces, Inc and started another program to engage girls with these STEM role models.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Jones and Stephenson started a program called “Couch Conversations with STEMineers” to provide students who were stuck at home with access to diverse individuals in STEM careers. Using the various audiences they have developed through their outreach efforts, Jones and Stephenson were able to bring together 50 girls (from the United States to the Bahamas and England) and about five STEM role models for a virtual “Color in STEM©” event, a program originally founded by Stephenson. Each role model introduced themselves, often sharing other parts of their identity and culture. Everyone participated in a “painting DNA” activity, and then had a reflective conversation with the girls about what parts of themselves they might want to carry forward into their careers. Jones remembered especially one girl who lives in foster care, who said she wanted to help keep families together, so she thought she might study music and how it could help people to be happy. 

Jones and Stephenson partnered with Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, Tallahassee Community College and Florida State University to hold the event again, this time with nearly 200 girls and astronaut Dorothy Mecalf-Lindenburger as a keynote speaker. They included a pre-event survey within the registration and sent a post-event survey afterward. The survey results indicated overall increases in interest in STEM. While these two events were just for girls, Jones noted that “normalizing these images across the board will help make sure that diversity in STEM is not something to be afraid of.” Jones is continuing to work with a variety of afterschool programs and school systems across the country to provide programming that will continue to push forward efforts to diversify the STEM workforce by increasing youth access to career exposure programs.

Yamilée Toussant Beach – STEM From Dance (Virtual and In-Person Dance Program)

Ambassador Yamilée Toussaint Beach founded an organization in 2012, STEM From Dance, which uses dance to empower particularly minority girls from low-income areas. The AAAS IF/THEN® grant helped them to serve more students during a time of growth, in particular during their summer program. In 2020 their summer program was fully virtual for the first time, and in 2021 they did both virtual and in-person, with two sites in New York City, one in Atlanta, and one in Orlando. This school year, they will be in 40 schools throughout New York City.

The STEM From Dance program places the girls into cohorts to work on a dance performance that integrates an element of STEM, such as animations or circuitry, and they are taught the basics of that technology as well as the foundations of movement and choreography. Toussaint Beach says there were some advantages to going online, such as being able to do multiple takes and make interesting arrangements through video editing (watch their virtual program highlight reel from August 2020). 

Toussaint Beach said there are many students who report signing up because of the dance component, who would not have signed up for a coding club or robotics camp, for example. “This tells me there are students out there who need that entry into STEM,” she says.

The IF/THEN® program made posters of all the Ambassadors and shipped them to schools around the country – in fact, Toussaint Beach said she was speaking with someone recently who mentioned there was a poster of her up at their school. “The IF/THEN® initiative has supported us not just by giving the grant, but by the messaging. Our students hearing that message from us, and being able to watch Mission Unstoppable, and being able to see the posters in their schools… it feels like it is a concerted effort to encourage these girls. It’s not just us in their lives.”